"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: OUTSIDE THE BOX

Not Much Deviation Among Top Predictions: Everyone has Alabama getting to the College Football Playoffs again, joined almost as universally by Clemson and Oklahoma. The only suspense seems to be who will be the fourth school in the mix. I guess there's really not much reason to play the regular season and conference championship games. We should just have a playoff between Ohio State, Michigan, LSU and Florida State to see who gets the final spot. If we believe the early prognosticators, teams like Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor might make things fun for a while, but when it all shakes out, the drama will have evaporated and we'll be down to the favorites. Of course, I beg to differ, if for no other reason than to present another point of view. I've taken a look at all of the  Big Five conference teams as well as a few of the others, including independents and Group of Five conference teams that may compete at the national level. Using some easy to find criteria, I scored every team and came up with conference and national rankings. The intent was to find out who had the best chance to win their division and conference, thus enabling them to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. It was not intended to provide a full ranking of all of the teams. The methodology doesn't hold up well for teams in the middle of the pack.

Wins in 2015:  Like it or not, in college football, the prior season's results are a fair indicator of the prospects for the current season. I began with the number of victories each team had last season, including conference championship games, the bowls and any playoff wins. This obviously afforded the successful teams from a year ago a significant advantage.

Returning Offensive Starters: For the top teams or even ones that had moderate success, bringing back experienced players is an advantage. On the offensive side of the ball, I gave teams an additional point if they have their starting quarterback returning. Although teams have been able to win with a new signal caller, it's a big advantage to have continuity at that position from season to season.

Returning Defensive Starters: No extra points for any particular position and I also didn't include any special teamers, such as placekickers or punters.

Conference Schedule Adjustment: Even though schools play in the same league, or even in the same division. their schedules can still vary greatly, especially because imbalances create different matchups with teams from the opposite division. This is the case in every conference with the exception of the Big 12, whose teams play a round robin schedule. Still, home and road games are sometimes inordinately skewed in a team's favor. The adjustments are subtractions for tougher schedules and additions for easier ones.

Non-conference Schedule Adjustment: The same logic as the previous criterion, but taking into consideration the quality of opponents faced outside of their conference. For independents, this is an adjustment based on their entire schedule.

ACC: Not a big surprise, as Clemson topped the Atlantic division and the league with a score of 28. The Tigers benefited greatly from a favorable conference schedule, which sees them take on a rebuilding Georgia Tech and a decent Pittsburgh squad from the Coastal division. A team that probably under-performed last season, the Louisville Cardinals, came in a close second, also getting a break in their conference schedule, with bottom feeders Boston College and Virginia on the schedule. Where is Florida State, you're asking? They came in third in the Atlantic, due to a much tougher conference slate that includes North Carolina and a Miami team that's expected to be much improved under new coach Mark Richt. In the Coastal, look for North Carolina to have a leg up in what is always a dogfight, made more so this year if Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente gets the Hokie offense in gear.

Big 12: Oklahoma advanced to the College Football Playoffs last season and are looking to take it to another level, getting to the final and perhaps getting another national championship for coach Bob Stoops. But their biggest competition might just be from their home state, as rival Oklahoma State returns ten offensive starters to a team that didn't exactly have trouble putting points on the board last season. The problem for the Cowboys came from the other side of the ball as they surrendered 151 points in season ending losses to Baylor, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. The seven returning defensive starters will need to get some help if they are to live up to the 28 points in my study, tops in the conference.

Big Ten:  Michigan, in coach Jim Harbaugh's second season in Ann Arbor, is a popular pick to challenge Ohio State for their division and the conference, but to advance to the playoffs as well. Although I tend to think it's a bit premature to expect the Wolverines to unseat Urban Meyer's Buckeyes as the top dog in the Big Ten, my scoring method actually has them coming out on top. Ohio State, with only three offensive and four defensive returning starters, will be looking to reload the team that was arguably the best in college football last season. But unlike last year, when the East clearly had more depth and talent than the West, the league may have a bit more balance. Iowa went into the Big Ten championship undefeated and were within a field goal of defeating Michigan State. Another favorable schedule again has the Hawkeyes clear favorites in their division, and with eight defensive starters back, they can once again challenge for a spot in the playoffs. Wisconsin will be victimized not only by graduation, but also by a brutal schedule that has them playing at Michigan State and Michigan in back to back weeks, then after a bye week hosting Ohio State and traveling to Iowa. No chance.

Pac-12: After getting shut out of the playoffs last year, most pundits have it happening again. The conference is deep and because the teams play a nine-game league schedule, the chances of dodging good teams in the regular season are slight. The favorites coming into the season are Stanford in the North and UCLA in the South, and my numbers add up the same way. But unlike a lot of experts that are falling in love with Washington, I believe the team from the other side of the state has a great chance to surprise some people. It's true that Washington State's head coach Mike Leach has never really paid much attention to defense, but with a little improvement on that side of ball could push the Cougars to the next level. Offenses are scoring more points than ever, and one need look no further than last year's championship game to see Alabama win despite giving up 40 points to Clemson. In the South, the Bruins will be challenged by a good USC team and Utah, who will need to find some offensive replacements for a group that had trouble scoring at times last season.

SEC: Alabama leads the nation in championships the last seven seasons and the conference has dominated for well over a decade. Can the Crimson Tide continue their run, despite losing half their starters, including the quarterback? My numbers say no. As predicted by many, LSU stands to make a leap and finally give Alabama a run in the West. But that half of the conference is so strong, that it may be difficult to have a clear enough winner to have a representative in the playoffs. Arkansas gets Alabama and LSU in Fayetteville this season, while Mississippi State and Ole Miss might take a step back. In the East, Tennessee returns almost the entire team and looks like the favorite to unseat Florida atop the division. My analysis has Georgia a close second, making the October 1 matchup between the two as critical a game as any on the season's schedule.

Others:  Three other teams in particular stand out from the non-Big Five. San Diego State has a lot of talent returning from an 11 win team and also plays California, giving them a chance at a quality win. Houston, hosting Oklahoma in their opener, has a great opportunity to build on last season, where they picked up 13 victories with a defeat of Florida State in the Peach Bowl. One more that could make some noise is Appalachian State. Although they are a recent addition to the FBS, they open at Tennessee after picking up 11 wins and bowl victory over Ohio. Notre Dame, while having a schedule worthy of any conference school, just won't have enough horses to make it beyond the regular season.

Comments: What the numbers can't take into consideration are factors such as quality of recruiting classes, coaching ability and the talent of replacements. So while the exercise was enlightening, it didn't totlally dictate who I picked to win conferences and advance to the playoffs.

Picks:

ACC: Atlantic - Clemson; Coastal - North Carolina; Championship - Clemson
Big 12: Oklahoma State
Big Ten: East - Ohio State; West - Iowa; Championship - Iowa
Pac-12: North - Stanford; South - UCLA; Championship - Stanford
SEC: East - Georgia; West - LSU; Championship - LSU

College Football Playoffs:

Clemson
Oklahoma State
Iowa
LSU

National Champion

Clemson

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at  Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM.




Saturday, August 20, 2016

THE RIO GAMES: EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS, SEVENTEEN DAYS OF ATHLETIC EXCELLENCE

No Violence, No Deaths, No Controversy: Eighteen days ago, most of us would have been very surprised to have witnessed what transpired in Rio de Janeiro during the course of these Olympic Games. All we heard about in the months prior to the Olympics were horror stories of polluted waters, security fears, public health disasters and unfinished venues. There was little publicity about the actual competitors, who the favorites were and what athletic story lines we should be paying attention to. In retrospect, it was all overblown, the negativity in our culture overshadowing the promise and optimism of a compelling and captivating event.

As I watched a stadium packed with the host country's fans cheering their soccer team on to victory in penalty kicks over Germany, I couldn't imagine a more fitting finale to a truly great Olympics. From the stunning topography to the scintillating action, I've been riveted for the last two weeks to any broadcast coverage I could find. Perhaps it's been about the domination of the U.S. delegation, racking up a total of 116 medals at this writing, ensured to put at least one more on the board when the men's basketball team wraps up competition in the gold medal game. Or maybe it's just the sheer expanse of competition, from high profile sports like swimming, gymnastics and athletics to lesser known endeavors like fencing, badminton or kayaking.

The sheer determination of the athletes to train and compete for a once every four years' shot at glory should be inspiring, prompting positive reaction and a call to devote ourselves to something more than sitting on our tails and taking pot shots at things that we don't agree with. My opinion is that if one hasn't been in another person's position, then it's virtually impossible to have a worthwhile perspective of their reaction. To criticize Michael Phelps for his boisterous celebration at winning yet another gold medal, or Lilly King for wagging her finger in response to another swimmer, or Usain Bolt for looking at the camera on his way to victory, or anyone for their reaction on the medal stand, is ludicrous. I say go out and win yourself a gold medal, then you earn an opinion. Otherwise, shut up and do something useful with your life.

Prior to the start of these Games, I was totally committed to boycotting, much like the U.S. did in 1980, prompting the Eastern Bloc to reciprocate in 1984. But I decided to give them a look, and I'm certainly pleased that I did. By tuning in, I was treated to Katy Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Usain Bolt and a hundred other terrific stories. But the biggest lesson I learned was that the story is not the IOC, the venue, controversy surrounding the choice of the host city or anything else not directly associated with the competition, No, the real story is the about competitors, who seemingly rise above all else when it comes time to perform to the best of their abilities. And that's what I'll take from these Games, the positive outlook of the athletes, not the negativity of those that choose to stay on the sidelines.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.




Friday, August 19, 2016

US OLYMPIC MEDAL HAUL: IS THERE MORE BEHIND IT THAN JUST STRONG PERFORMANCES?

China, Russia Down; UK Up: The United States tallied their 100th medal of the Rio Games last night, coming within a couple of exceeding the combined total of China and Russia. In Beijing in 2008, the host Chinese came within ten total medals of of the Americans, an incredible rise in accomplishment from finishing with just less than half the U.S. count of 101 just eight years earlier in Atlanta. Following the surge in medals for the Chinese in their own country and then in London in 2012, they appear to have fallen back to more historical levels. Great Britain as well is seeing better counts following their host status, currently sitting in third place.

Is there more to this than simply normal fluctuations in performance levels? Was there more behind the success of China than just an increased emphasis spurred on by being the host nation? Given the doping and  other performance enhancing drug (PED) revelations of the past several months, I believe there is a good chance that there is. These games aren't over yet, but if the trend continues to their conclusion, with the exception of Russia, the medal totals will look very much as they did in Athens in 2004. In that year, the U.S. led with 101, followed by Russia with 90, China (63), Australia (50), Germany (49), Japan (37), France (33), Italy (32), Great Britain and South Korea (30). Currently, the standings are U.S. (100), China (58), Great Britain (56), Russia (44), Japan (37), France (34), Germany (32), Australia (27), Italy (24) and South Korea (18). The major movers are Great Britain to the positive and Russia to the negative. Obviously, Russia was going to take a hit with their track and field athletes banned from Rio, but that just helps make my case. Of their 90 medals in Athens, 19 came from athletics, accounting for less than half their deficit in Rio.

What's interesting here is that the main beneficiary of the medal count shift is not the United States, but rather Great Britain. The point could be made that PED's, while helping to make a middle of the pack competitor compete for a medal, may not be a full replacement for training and raw ability. I'm neither a scientist nor a sports performance expert, but I'm pretty good at analyzing numbers and statistics to come to a conclusion.  This isn't to say that athletes in countries other than Russia aren't using PED's. We need to look no farther than Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, half of major league baseball and any number of NFL players for substantiation that PED use pervades any number of sports on global basis. But it appears from the numbers that perhaps their use in the Olympics has been discouraged and hopefully curbed to the extent that what we have seen in Rio is legitimate competition that is not affected by chemical substances.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.






Wednesday, August 10, 2016

THE RIO SUMMER OLYMPICS: OF COURSE I'M WATCHING

I Tried to Resist: Every four years, amidst controversy and stories of rampant materialithansm (Atlanta, 1996), human rights violations and corruption (Beijing, 2008), security concerns (London, 2012), economic issues (Athens, 2004), or all of the above plus dire predictions of a public health catastrophe (Rio de Janiero, 2016), the Summer Olympic Games take place and in almost every case, the concerns tend to go largely unjustified. This year I was intent on avoiding the event, turned off by reports of over promising and under delivering by the Rio organizing committee, not to mention the rampant bribery of IOC officials to win the bid to host the Games. But there I was earlier this week, tuning in to watch the U.S. women's rugby team trying to upset New Zealand to get to the quarterfinals. Really? Women's rugby? Then there's archery, the cycling road race, beach volleyball, synchronized diving and it goes on and on and on. And I'll be watching.

It's an amazing sports phenomenon, the world getting together to compete in an almost unending variety of athletic events. Smiling faces of competing athletes, disappointment of those who just miss out on a trip to the medal platform, nervous parents and family members, stunning scenery and enthusiastic fans are shown every night on what has proven to be an excellent prime time production by NBC. Sure, the coverage is heavily slanted toward the United States teams and individuals, but the last time I checked, we are living in the U.S. and it's fairly safe to assume that interest in our the competitors from our own country would be significantly higher than those from other places. But if you want to see every second of every event, NBC has that for you as well, streaming all of its coverage live on their NBC Olympics app.

The Americans at these Games have fared very well to date. The men were even able to grab a silver medal in the platform synchronized diving competition. Why not a gold? Well, because the Chinese divers were so good that even their poor dives were perfectly synchronized. Go figure. Then there is the U.S. swimming team, an entertaining mix of rookies and grizzled veterans, like Michael Phelps at age 31 and Ryan Lochte at 32. They both swam on the gold medal winning men's 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay team. That's a combined 63 years old. That's probably older than the total ages of the entire Russian women's gymnastics team. But on a more serious note, the Americans have put on a clinic in the pool, with Katie Ledecky looking like a unisuit clad assassin. Then there was Lilly King calling out and defeating Russia's Yulia Efimova, a repeated doping offender, in the 100 meter breaststroke.

There's disappointment for the U.S. as well. The men's volleyball team has managed just a single set in two matches, one against a Canadian team that shouldn't have been able to stay on the floor with them. Sloppy play and a lack of cohesion have victimized the squad that despite its youth and inexperience, was expected to at least compete for a medal. In the men's team competition, the U.S. gymnastics team got off to a horrrendous start, suddenly forgetting how to stay on the competition section of the floor exercise mat. As they move on to the individual apparatus and all-around competition, they need to remember one thing: white good, green bad. Of course the contrast with the women's team couldn't be any clearer. In winning the team gold, they obliterated the competition with almost perfect routine followed by perfect routine after perfect routine after...well, you get the picture. I've been following the Olympics since the 1964 Games in Tokyo, and even the great Soviet and other Eastern Bloc teams lacked the depth and precision that the U.S. women demonstrated in their dominating win.

Can the quintet add to there medals, will the U.S. women's soccer team follow up their World Cup win with a gold, can Michael Phelps possibly continue to do well enough to consider returning for another Games? I don't know, but I'm sure I'll be tuned in. And guess what? We haven't even started with track and field, golf or medal rounds in basketball, volleyball and beach volleyball. I just hope I have something left to walk in, uh, I mean watch the closing ceremonies.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.




Thursday, August 4, 2016

FOUR WEEKS TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL KICKOFF: FIRST LOOK AT THE ACC

Clemson vs. Florida State: Is That All There Is? Listening to the so-called college football experts would lead you to believe that there are only two team in the ACC. Unfortunately, Florida State and Clemson are both in the same division of the league, so only one will even have a chance of playing in the league championship game. Will the ACC title end up going to the winner of the regular season matchup between the Tigers and the 'Noles? And will that guarantee the victor qualification for the College Football Playoffs? Once again, the experts would have you thinking that there are only a handful of meaningful games in the ACC, and all of them involve the frontrunners in the Atlantic Division.

If it sounds like I'm about to make an argument against the conventional wisdom, you're absolutely on the right track. Do I believe that Clemson and Florida State have the best two teams in the league? Pretty much. Do I think they'll both come through the season unscathed with the exception of their game against each other? Not really. Why, you might ask? Because there is a little matter of scheduling, or more accurately, the discrepancies in the college schedules that can make a huge difference in how teams ultimately finish the season. And in the ACC this year, there is a significant delta between the teams Florida State faces and those that Clemson will play, not to mention other potential contenders, if indeed you can believe there are any of those.

I'll start with the two favorites.  The Seminoles play three games against FBS opponents, two of them from the SEC. Clemson plays three games against FBS opponents, two of them from the SEC. The similarities end there. The combined 2015 records of Florida State's FBS opponents is 28 - 12. Those of Clemson's is 14 - 23. That's a very significant  difference, plus the fact that FSU plays South Florida, a team that is picked to be better than last year's 8 - 5. Clemson takes on Troy, hardly a team in the same class as the Bulls. Clemson opens at Auburn, while FSU takes on Ole Miss in Orlando. Okay, true road game for the Tigers, a quasi home game, at least in terms of fan support for Florida State. But Ole Miss is probably better than Auburn right now. To go to the other end of the schedule, both teams finish with traditional in-state rivalry games. The difference is that South Carolina is trying to rebuild under new coach Will Muschamp, while Florida is hoping to build on last year's SEC East title.

The conference schedule offers the same kind of advantages in Clemson's favor. The top two teams in the ACC Coastal are projected to be Miami and North Carolina, the defending Coastal champ. Guess which opponents Florida State plays from the other division in the league? In contrast, Clemson plays Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, projected by one publication to finish fifth and fourth in their division, respectively. When you factor in the non-conference schedules, Clemson clearly has the advantage in scheduling. But there's a team in the same division that could end up taking advantage of a favorable conference schedule, especially if they pull an upset of either of the favorites. Louisville draws Duke and Virginia, two of the bottom feeders in the Coastal. I had picked the Cardinals to fare very well last season, so there's a chance Bobby Petrino can get his team in contention for the title.

In the Coastal division, there's a lot of buzz around Miami, hoping to get re-energized by the hiring of alumnus Mark Richt as head coach. He's hoping to do for the 'Canes what he had trouble doing at Georgia by winning a conference title. New Va. Tech coach Justin Fuentes will be attempting to bring new life to the Hokies offense while allowing long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster to handle the other side of the line of scrimmage. From a scheduling perspective though, the Hokies have a big advantage over not only Miami, but also North Carolina. Va. Tech plays Boston College and Syracuse from the Atlantic Division, neither of which are even close to competing at a high level and picked to bring up the rear in the division. As mentioned before, the other two Coastal contenders take on Florida State. So as you can see, scheduling is likely to play a very big role in who contends for and ultimately wins the ACC title.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.